|Topic:||Digital technology and development in Greece|
|Organisation:||Ministry of Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport & Networks, Greece|
Kostas Hatzidakis is currently the Minister of Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport & Networks in Greece. Mr Hatzidakis has served as Minister of Transport and Communications (2007-2009) and Minister of Development (2009).
Kostas Hatzidakis studied Law at the University of Athens and continued his studies at the University of Kent, where he obtained a Master’s Degree in Communication and Image Studies.
Digital communications are the spearhead of the Greek government’s efforts to bridge the digital gap with other countries. Bridging this gap will also help Greece to redress the social and economic imbalance between the country’s urban centres and its regions. The resulting national broadband strategy relies on two pillars: advanced broadband infrastructure; and innovative digital services.
The formation of a viable tripartite coalition government in Greece following the June 2012 election ended a long period of uncertainty that meant stagnation in politics and stagnation for the economy. The new government, the first in many years to face the critical challenge to have to save the country, has repeatedly exhibited its strong political will to press on with the reforms necessary for the economy to recover and to overcome the crisis.
It has not been an easy process. The parties in government have suffered the political cost, but more and indeed most important were the sacrifices of the Greek people. The process is far from over, but at least the rewards are beginning to appear. There is no talk of Grexit any longer; our deficit now ranks as the sixth or seventh lowest in the Eurozone; and the country and its banks have recently been upgraded by Fitch’s. At the same time a multitude of reforms and structural changes in the labour market, the market and the state, most of which were sorely overdue, mark the government’s resolution to stimulate development and move to a new chapter.
For it is clear that the name of the game is development. Without growth, Greece cannot hope to break the vicious circle of stagnation, unemployment and continued dependence on foreign assistance. To achieve growth we must change the very paradigm of our productive basis. Sure enough, Greece will remain a paradise holiday destination – our climate, geography, expertise and hospitability can guarantee that. Sure enough, our land will continue to breed and grow the finest delicacies to please the palate: olive oil, wine, fruit, honey and yogurt shall continue to be the backbone of our exports. But this is just not enough for a country facing a severe economic and social crisis. Now is the time to become more productive and more competitive in order to keep up with the global economy.
In striving to change this paradigm, a key role can and must be played by innovation and technology. Digital communications are the spearhead of the Greek government’s efforts to bridge the digital gap with other countries (we rank 64th in the OECD’s Networked Readiness Index (NRI) for 2013, with a score of 3.93 compared to Finland’s leading score of 5.98). Bridging this gap shall help us bridge another: the social and economic imbalance between the country’s urban centres and its regions.
National broadband strategy
It is thus that shaping the national broadband strategy is high in this government’s agenda. The strategy relies on two pillars: advanced broadband infrastructure; and innovative digital services. We aim to promote these with a series of public/private partnerships (PPPs) and by encouraging synergies between established network and infrastructure providers. Here are some of the plans we have set out in order to achieve the aims of the national broadband strategy:
A. Two new bills have been passed through Parliament in order to rationalize the digital dividend. The first finalises the mapping of terrestrial digital broadcasting frequencies; and the second brings up to date the national regulation for the distribution of frequency zones. The stage is now set for all Greek citizens to reap the benefits of high quality, innovative telecom services with a high degree of interoperability and economies of scale.
B. The project to promote fibre to the home (FTTH) is aimed at covering the highest possible percentage of the population. Recent feasibility studies on the technical and financial aspects of the project are under scrutiny, as are market dynamics, potential links with the existing infrastructure and the prospects it raises to develop new digital services and applications.
C. Greece’s particular geography, with numerous inhabited islands and mountain ranges creates scattered – and isolated – communities that are not privileged enough to enjoy all benefits of technology. Our rural broadband strategy aims to rectify this imbalance and serve the interconnection between these communities and the urban centres – and among each other. €140 million have already been earmarked for this project from the European Union’s structural funds. Other means to finance the building of regional wideband infrastructure are PPPs and the EU programmes JESSICA and CEF.
However, the most important factor to consider in the development of innovative digital products, services and software is entrepreneurship. Ultimately no policy can make up for the lack of fresh minds, ready to conceive and eager to market and export new ideas that lead to new products. The sector has several advantages that make it extremely suitable to thrive in an ailing economy, such as our own: it requires very small initial investment; it can perform swiftly and yield many times the initial capital; it requires no industrial installations (even a backyard will do); and it is more local than big industry, as it relies heavily on individual talent – in fact it has the potential to draw considerable investment from abroad.
We are trying to encourage such initiatives by actively supporting start-ups to get off the ground. We strive to reduce bureaucracy, help them access international fairs and provide networking opportunities through the government site designed exclusively for them (soon to be updated to adapt to modern challenges). Further policies currently under consideration include tax breaks for start-ups as an incentive; linking universities with the market; adapting the structure of EU and national funds available to research programmes to bring them closer to the market; building networks with the international research community; and, of course, we are ready to reward success stories, both morally and materially.
Greece has the scientific personnel and the talent for all this. The task ahead for any government is to make good use of it to the common benefit. This is by no means an easy task, especially in the middle of the worst economic crisis the country has faced since World War II. Yet we have succeeded in turning the tide and keeping our country within the Eurozone. We need to do more – we need to achieve the even more difficult aim of development. Innovation, entrepreneurship and technology are both a means to this end and form an integral part of Greece where we want it to be in ten years from now. Our ancestors have fought many battles in the long history of our country. This is the battle of our generation – and it is a battle we cannot afford to lose.